Review: Supergirl #20

This issue restored my faith in Supergirl. It may even be the first time I actually liked the new Kara. The first two issues of Kelley Puckett and Drew Johnson’s run made me like her even more, but this issue was a great start. And it features the most realistic, average looking (in a good way) character design for Supergirl yet, so for that it has a special place in my heart.

The cover put me off a bit, but thankfully it’s not reflective of the contents. I didn’t care for a shot of Supergirl flying away from a disaster crying like a failure. (Collective groan: Again?!) It’s the hook for the story, but I would have been won over much better by an illustration from the interior artist in a heroic pose like the following.

The book is peppered with awesome poses like this, and I love it. The combination of Tony Bedard’s writing and Renato Guedes’ makes this Kara tenacious, strong, and heroic in her attempt to protect civilians caught in the midst of the war between the Amazons and Patriarch’s World. This one issue by itself turns the tide in the portrayal of Supergirl as a screw-up superhero. And it manages to do so even while taking place during the godawful Amazons Attack, which is impressive. (The story can be read on its own without too much difficulty.)

Kara is still suffering self-confidence issues as a result of the crap Joe Kelly put her through, but the unlikeable character from his run is gone. Here Kara’s struggle to do the right thing feels appropriate, as she finds herself in the midst of a war where there are, like in any war, no easy answers and no clean way out.

The issue opens with Kara having tried to force a peace settlement between the queen of the Amazons and the president of the USA. If only it were that easy. It failed, of course, but I love that Kara tried such a straightforward solution, trying to cut through all the crap and force the people with the power to talk to each other. But due to a massive misunderstanding, she and Wonder Girl are now believed to have orchestrated an attack on the American president’s plane, when they were really just trying to protect the passengers from the Amazons. Now all sides distrust them. This sucks for them, but I love seeing Cassie and Kara working on the same side. Doesn’t Wonder Girl look awesome?

Fortunately Supergirl is able to regain the confidence of a group of civilians fairly quickly through her bravery. We see the public’s perception of Supergirl shift back to a positive one through the eyes of a man whose wife was on Air Force One and whom he believes to be dead as a result of Supergirl and Wonder Girl’s actions.

He seeks to take his pain and anger out on Supergirl by using her weakness to magic against her, when she is struck by a magical arrow and the crowd learns that she can be mortally wounded by magic. At first he plans to use this arrow to kill her, but seeing her heroic actions changes his mind. Like the reader, he can’t help being won over by her sincere and dogged determination to protect them from the carnage.

Here we see Supergirl lying injured inside a circle of bystanders, but not in a helpless, feminized position. Someone exclaims, “Oh my god, she’s just a kid”, reminding me of the scene in Spider-Man II when Peter has just saved the passengers of the runaway railcar. I found that very touching. The line evokes sympathy for Kara without demeaning her: her heroism is all the greater because she’s young.

It’s good for the public to realize that these heroes they expect so much of are not all hugely experienced. This isn’t the Silver Age: public relations are hard, figuring out how to save people is hard, even when you have superpowers. Kara’s training has been minimal. She was thrust into this position, and in this issue she takes on that responsibility with all she’s got. She’s right back at it, not thinking about herself but only what she has to do to stop a rampaging cyclops. And when she’s faced with using that arrow against her attacker by shooting him in the eye with it, she has a twinge of sympathy about doing something so cruel. I like that.

In the end, Supergirl learns that war is never clean, that it always takes a toll on the humanity of those who are fighting for what they believe is a just cause. Through the example of the husband who turns out to be a former U.S. marine who found himself murdering innocents to get out of Somalia, Kara learns that too often, folks who consider themselves “good people” who are just trying to “fix” a bad situation can cause even more harm to the innocents involved. Thankfully Kara doesn’t have to learn this lesson first hand. This time, she does save the day.

I thought this was a great fresh start for the Supergirl series. Tony Bedard and Renato Guedes only had three issues on the book and no chance to tell a self-contained story, but in one issue they succeeded in restoring Supergirl’s status to that of a hero. Kara seems like a completely different person from the previous issues – much closer to the Supergirl in Legion of Super-Heroes. She makes reasonable mistakes and learns from them, and does her damnedest to fix them. The art helps tremendously in portraying that tenacity. Guedes’ style is perfect for Supergirl here, especially in the wake of what’s come before. I actually didn’t like his art in previous issues of Superman. He has a very gritty, pseudo-naturalistic style: his characters look like ordinary people, flawed, wrinkled, anything but glamorous. His early concept sketches of Kara made me a bit nervous. She looked so…ordinary. (And the upskirt shot was a bit icky.) Like an average teenage girl dressed up in a Supergirl costume. Her hair was messy, her costume wrinkled, her boots saggy. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But in the finished product, she looks terrific.

I love that her skirt is twice its usual length and looks like it’s comfortable to move around in. It also sits high enough on her hips that it looks like it fits. No hip bones showing! If Supergirl’s stuck with a skirt for now, this is the way to do it. Best of all, she gets to wear blue boxers that are clearly (but not provocatively) shown whenever she’s being flung about.

I love this version of Supergirl, and look forward to seeing more of it in Superman.

Ironically, Supergirl #20, 21, and 22 are not included in any of the collected editions apparently due to being part of crossovers.

Michelle Bacon

Michelle loves comics and code. A lifelong Superfamily fan, she's been collecting comics for 20 years, and running Supergirl: Maid of Might since 2000.

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